The Honourable Mark Brown, Prime Minister of the Cook Islands at the Ceremonial Welcome by Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat

The Honourable Sitiveni Rabuka, Prime Minister of Fiji and member of the Pacific Islands Forum Troika Secretary General Henry Puna and Staff of the Pacific Islands Forum

Honourable Ministers present here this evening

Representatives of our Forum Member States

Members of the Diplomatic Corp

Representatives of our Regional Agencies, and Development Partners

Kia orana and Bula vinaka

Prime Minister Rabuka – Secretary General Puna - meitaki maata and vinaka vaka levu for this very special welcome today. I’ve been humbled by the traditional ceremony extended this evening. To our i-taukei community, my deep gratitude.

It is my privilege to be here in Suva - the political and economic hub of the Pacific - and here at the Secretariat, the heart of our region.

This is one of those special occasions that I will remember for some time. Not just because of the honour you have given me in your true Pacific welcome, but because I am in the presence of good friends and colleagues.

One of those is, of course, our current Secretary General, Henry Puna. A true servant of the Pacific, a son of the Cook Islands and our former Prime Minister. Kia orana kia koe e tama – te Atua ua rai te akarangatira iakoe, no te au ra ki mua.

I have visited the Forum on many an occasion over the years, as an official, as a Minister and as a Leader. Whenever I come through the gates and see the flags of the Forum Members flying, I’m reminded the sacrifice of our forebears, the legacy they have blessed us with and the history that surrounds our premier regional organisation. I’m also reminded my and our collective obligation to that legacy and to generations to come.

The Cook Islands has a long association with the Forum and is one of the seven founding members at its humble beginnings in 1971.

Indeed, it was our very first Premier, Sir Albert Henry, who attended that first meeting of the Forum on the 7 August 1971 - and so began our region’s journey as the Forum.

The history and nature of the Forum is captured everywhere on this campus. From the pieces of art gifted by the members that are part of the working environment, to the photos of previous Chairs and inspirational Leaders of the Forum on the walls of the old Library, to the staff that come from far and wide to serve our region, and to our Members that bring their distinctive views to the table.

The Pacific Islands Forum has met numerous challenges over the years and the conversations within these walls have shaped Pacific history, Pacific people and our Blue Pacific continent.

We are a melting pot of Te Moana Nui a Kiva – our Blue Pacific Continent - that represents the aspirations of many generations of Pacific people that have sought to make the region a better place for all.

I am extremely fortunate to be able to step into the very large footprints and stand on the shoulders of previous Forum Chairs, including Prime Minister Rabuka. It is not an undertaking I take lightly, and I will strive to serve our Members to deliver on the priorities as determined by the Leaders.

Our Pacific Vision is for a region of peace, harmony, security, social inclusion, and prosperity, so that all Pacific people can lead free, healthy, and productive lives.

As Chair, I want to contribute to that vision during my tenure. I want to leave the Forum in a better place for the incoming Chair to build upon further. I would like to build new partnerships and refresh existing priorities so that we can deliver on the goals of the 2050 strategy.

Through the 2050 Implementation Plan, the Cook Islands would like to see Pacific Partnerships for Prosperity that will realize new finance flows into the region for climate change and weather ready investments; progress gender equality; reinvigorate the Rarotonga treaty for a nuclear free Pacific; strengthen cyber security; build scientific knowledge of our ocean; eliminate plastics from our environment; and address the challenges of labour mobility and climate mobility.

Building partnerships is at the very core of the Forum and the Cook Islands understands that we need the Members, our Secretariat and our development partners to work closely together to achieve the necessary actions to move forward.

The Pacific is a focus for many diverse partners in this moment of time. Change brings challenges as well as opportunities. In some ways, the Secretariat will also need to change to meet these new challenges and support members harness the opportunities a post COVID world offer.

The delivery of the 2050 Strategy and Implementation plan will guide the path the Members and the Secretariat will need to take to manage regional development and dynamics. We will need our Secretariat to once again, step up to our challenges, and respond to our Members needs, just as the Secretariat has done so many times in the past.

The Cook Islands commits to working closely with all our Members and our Secretariat in advancing our Pacific priorities during our Chair role. We commit to working closely with our CROP agencies, development partners, our civil society and private sector regional representatives in our collective efforts to serve our Pacific people.

I look forward to working closely with Prime Minister Rabuka and Tonga Prime Minister Sovaleni and our Secretariat to properly operationalising our Forum Troika.

Finally I look forward to welcoming all our Leaders and their delegations, development partners and CROP agencies, supported by our Secretariat, to the Cook Islands for the Leaders meeting in November.

This week, our Forum Economic Ministers Meeting will discuss our forward regional economic priorities, and collective actions. FEMM, the first of our Ministerial meetings leading up to the Leaders gathering in November, will set our ambition and pace. I encourage our proactive engagement in discussions, so our recommendations deliver transformative benefits for our Pacific people.

Come November, when our Leaders gather in Rarotonga and Aitutaki, let us bring to fruition partnerships for prosperity for Pacific people, by ensuring “Our Voices, Our Choices, the Pacific Way – Promote, Partner, Prosper” is delivered through our 2050 Strategy and Implementation Plan.

Meitaki Maata.